Oyster gardening

Image of Jamie, a Montgomery County Stream Steward, taking care of an oyster cage.
July 22, 2013
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Stream Stewards care about the watershed and help out when they can. I am a Montgomery County Stream Steward as well as an oyster gardener for The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). An oyster gardener is someone who raises oysters from baby spats. This gives them a greater chance for survival when they are placed on protected sanctuary reefs in the Bay. Oysters need help because there are only 2% of them left.

Oysters are an important part of the ecosystem. They create a habitat or home for many other critters. We found blue crabs, eels, grass shrimp, mud crabs, Gobi fish eggs and more in our oyster cages. They are also filter feeders. A single oyster sucks in 50 gallons of dirty Bay water a day and spits out clean water.

Image of young oysters.


I went to the Oak Grove Marina on the South River to ask about raising oysters off of their docks. They were excited about helping the Bay as well. Friends and family have helped over the years.

The process of oyster gardening is easy. In the fall, we put spats in cages off of the docks and float them near the top of the water. This gives the oysters greater access to plankton and oxygen that they need to thrive. It also protects them from creatures that will eat them. We hose them off every few weeks to keep the water flowing through the cages.

In the winter, the oysters are lowered to keep them from freezing. In the spring, we bring them up for a good cleaning. We count them and return them to CBF in the late spring.

This year, Meghan Hoffman, Oyster Restoration Outreach Coordinator for CBF, was gracious enough to come out with my family and I to drop the oysters off at their new home on the South River. We pulled the oysters out of their pens, put them in baskets, loaded them on a boat and went to find the reef. Luckily it was well marked by flags in the water and by the sudden lack of water under the boat where the reef was. As the sun set on the horizon, we planted 9,930 oysters. It was a great year! I can’t wait to get next years batch of spats and look forward to more years of gardening.

There are many ways we can protect our watersheds. We can plant trees along streams and vegetation where there is little. This would prevent sediment runoff from going into streams and eventually the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay and the oysters sure can use the help.

By Jamie Attanasio

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